mother holding baby
Maria Sykes
Maria Sykes
April 10, 2024 ·  4 min read

Scientists Say That Holding Babies More Often Strengthens Their Genes

It’s no news that the love between a mother and her child is the most powerful force ever known to humanity. Even if the relationship isn’t bound by blood, the power of this force remains unchanged. A mother’s touch is reviving, healing, soothing, and calming. When a baby cries, the next course of action is to return him to his mother if she’s close by.

 A famous study conducted by Pediatric Child Health in 2010 revealed that a lack of normal sensory stimulation at infancy can cause developmental delays in children [1]. The study involved preterm infants who were incubated at birth and isolated from the mothers and a control group of infants who were attached to their mothers. Results after the first 8 to 12 months showed lower neurological functions in the preterm babies and decreased regurgitation in the control group babies. 

Underdeveloped cells in low-contact children

Science, yet again, has shown that babies should really be held more often and cuddled more lovingly [2]. This study revealed that distressed children who lacked physical contact at infancy were more likely to have underdeveloped genes [3]. The effect of this underdevelopment in adulthood has not been discovered yet, but there are possibilities that the children may be biologically disadvantaged. For the purpose of this study, scientists from the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital studied 94 healthy babies for a period of four-and-a-half years. 

Throughout this period, the parents of the children kept track of their behaviors such as crying, fussing, feeding, sleeping, and the duration of physical contact the children received each day. At the end of the study period, the scientists collected saliva DNA samples from the children and began the analysis.


They studied a biochemical mechanism known as DNA methylation, a process whereby methyl groups (containing carbon and hydrogen) are added to some parts of the DNA chromosomes [4]. These methyl groups control the activity of the chromosomes, and hence, cell function. They also influence gene cell maturity, and there should be a level of this maturity attained at every stage in life. Certain external conditions, such as physical touch and contact can influence the addition of these methyl groups to the chromosomes.

The scientists discovered a significant difference in the extent of methylation at five DNA sites in the low-contact and high-contact children. Two of these sites control the immune system and metabolism, two highly essential bodily functions. In essence, the genes of the low-contact children had DNA that was underdeveloped for their age. It is still largely unknown how the low-contact children would be affected by this gene condition in adulthood. 

“We plan to follow up on whether the ‘biological immaturity’ we saw in these children carries broad implications for their health, especially their psychological development,” said Sarah Moore, lead author of the paper. “If further research confirms this initial finding, it will underscore the importance of providing physical contact, especially for distressed infants.”

Harlow’s monkey experiment

In the 1950s, American psychologist Harry Harlow performed a ground-breaking study that examined behavioral abnormalities in rhesus monkeys that received different kinds of care at infancy [5]. His study was one of the first to show a correlation between motherly warmth and neurological development. 

Two groups of baby monkeys were made to receive care from dummy mothers – some of which were made out of soft, comforting terry cloth, and the others out of cold, hardwire. Serious behavioral abnormalities that mimicked autism and deprivation in humans were noticed in the monkeys with the hardwire mothers. They screamed in terror, clutched themselves, rocked back and forth, and hit themselves hard on the floor. The monkeys with the soft cloth mothers were always quickly soothed whenever they rubbed themselves up against the dummies. The low-contact monkey had abnormal levels of social behavior control hormones that left them erratic, irritable, unhappy, and terrified.

Harlow’s study also discovered that even when the erratic monkeys were placed in comforting environments, their conditions did not improve, which was evident of the fact that early infancy is the best time to form the mother-child attachment.

Hold your babies more often. Caress them, soothe them, kiss them, nurture them, and sing to them. Your bodily contact with the child plays a significant role in their development as infants and may be influential to their overall health as adults. Your children need your love and warmth, especially at the most fragile stage of their lives.


  1. Ardiel & Rankin. The importance of touch in development. PMC. Retrieved 10-07-19
  2. Berson, Scott. How often you hold your baby actually affects their DNA, study finds. Miami Herald. Retrieved 10-07-19
  3. UBC Faculty of Medicine. Holding infants – or not – can leave traces on their genes. UBC. Retrieved 10-07-19
  4. Moore et al. DNA Methylation and Its Basic Function. PMC Retrieved 10-07-19
  5. Admin. Harry F. Harlow, Monkey Love Experiments. The University of Oregon. Retrieved 10-07-19